Rita Moreno: Still sizzling

Award-winning actress Rita Moreno.
CBS News

(CBS News) Rita Moreno sizzled in the 1961 classic "West Side Story" -- and, some 50 years later, she sizzles still. Mo Rocca now with a Sunday Profile:

She heated up the screen in as Anita in "West Side Story," and half a century later, Rita Moreno can still bust a move.

She can look back on a life that's worthy of a Hollywood movie, from "Singin' in the Rain," to singing with the Muppets.

"I'm trying to remember now, you must've been discovered on stage?" asked Rocca.

"You're trying to remember? I'm trying to remember! I'm 81 now. It's a good thing I wrote it down!" she said.

Rita Moreno came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico with her mother when she was five years old. As she wrote in her memoir, "Mami and I trudged into America, hanging on to our knotted scarves, single suitcases, and shopping bags."

They joined relatives in an overcrowded Bronx, N.Y., apartment. Rosita Dolores Alverio was soon taking dance lessons and performing in clubs.

Then, an agent told her she needed to change her name, and made a few suggestions, like, "Orchid Montenegro."

"Oh, but jeez, that's a great name, I gotta say," Rocca remarked.

"It is, actually," said Moreno. "I'm sorry I don't have that now. Orchid Montenegro!"

They settled on Rita Moreno -- Rita, as in one of her idols, Rita Hayworth. But Rita modeled herself on another star: Elizabeth Taylor.

"I did my eyebrows like her, I did my hair like her," she said. "I wore a waist cincher because she has this wasp waist. I did everything I could. And when I did meet Mr. Louis B. Mayer the first thing he said was, 'Look at that: She looks like a Spanish Elizabeth Taylor.' Signed me on the spot."

"That must have been thrilling, to hear that from Louis B. Mayer," said Rocca.

"Oh, I damn near wet my knickers," Moreno said.

WEB EXTRA VIDEO: Click on the video player below to watch Rita Moreno demonstrate some dance moves for Mo Rocca.

Rita Moreno was off to Hollywood. But she found she was consistently cast as a certain kind of character, with a certain kind of accent -- what she called the "universal ethnic accent."

"Is that the accent you're using as Tuptim in 'King and I'?" Rocca asked.

"That's also the same accent. I should be embarrassed," Moreno said. "But it's just, you know, I'm 81. I don't have to be embarrassed anymore."

She was hungry for film roles, but had to fight against characters that often reduced her to racial stereotypes -- the "Mexican spitfire." "It's funny now," she said. "It was horrible then."

In 1954, an editor at Life magazine spotted her and put her on the cover, where she was in turn spotted by Marlon Brando. They began a tumultuous eight-year affair.

Moreno writes: "To say that he was a great lover, sensual, generous, delightfully inventive, would be gravely understating what he did not only to my body but for my soul."

"I have to ask ...." started Rocca.

"Well, now, I can't imagine what you're going to ask with respect to that quote," Moreno said.

"I mean, was it that good?"

"Well, what do you think? What did I say? Yeah."

But the obsessive relationship with Brando was volatile -- constant fights and infidelity.

And then one day the King -- Elvis Presley -- came calling, enlisting his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, as a matchmaker.